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Tax question threatens church unity

by Filipp Taratorkin, 18 January 2001

The question regarding the permissibility of Orthodox believers' accepting an Individual Taxpayer Number (INN) continues to stir up church life, evoking sharp disputes, harsh discord, and to a great extent dividing believers into those who agree and those who disagree with the technological innovations of the tax agencies.

Calls for rational and healthy thinking coming from the ruling bishops, authoritative spiritual counselors, and superiors of monasteries and parish churches become mixed with semihysterical declarations, statements, and ultimatums, formal and informal, mostly produced in the provinces, in dioceses, monasteries, and parishes where at the same time conciliatory voices are being raised.

As noted by NG-religii editor Maksim Shevchenko, "the pressure from the opponents of INN is so strong that the hierarchy is in a state that can accurately be described by the word 'confusion.'  It seems that the bishops simply do not know what to do; at the same time that official church structures, following the patriarch and synod, summon believers not to give in to the provocations of fanatics and to fill out the applications for assignment of INN, the spontaneous 'movement from below' casts doubt on the authority of the bishop to pronounce on this question." In Maksim Shevchenko's opinion, "a discussion of the INN question requires the urgent convoking of a churchwide conference whose conclusions should be determinative for the church and bear a character that is, if not dogmatic, at least instructional." Otherwise, suggests the NG-religii editor, the Russian Orthodox church cannot avoid schism.

The most novel of responses to the continuing dispute over INN is contained in the appeal of Metropolitan Gedeon Dokukin of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz. Addressing the diocesan assembly of clergy of the Stavropol and Vladikavkaz diocese on 16 January, Metropolitan Gedeon  concluded that "the imposition of all these novelties  is being carried out within the parameters of the creation of the new world order, which declares as its basis indifference to religion, that is, you can believe what you want but keep it to yourself. Such indifference is unacceptable to the Christian." Metropolitan Gedeon emphasized that if Orthodox Christians want to remain Orthodox in all of life's situations they "must test every action, whether it contradicts our religious conscience or leads to alienation from Christ." As regards INN, in Metropolitan Gedeon's opinion, "nobody is demanding religious reverence to himself as a god and nobody is requiring renunciation of Christ and worship of the beast." In this regard Metropolitan Gedeon called clergy and believers of the diocese entrusted to him to adhere strictly to the path defined by the most holy patriarch and the Holy Synod. Master Gedeon warned clergy against unfounded  anxiety and suspicion and against arrogant opposition to the cautious decisions of the hierarchy. "Does not the word of the Lord apply to them, 'Woe to you who tithe mint, dill, and cummin, but have neglected the most important matters, justice, mercy, and faith. Blind guides, straining a gnat but swallowing a camel!' (Mt. 23. 23-24).  In such sinful blindness not only the pastor himself may perish but his flock as well, and that is awful," Metropolitan Gedeon stressed.

However Metropolitan Gedeon also acknowledged the error and inconsistency of the state authorities:  "On one hand they tell us that INN and electronic cards are an exclusively technological measure, but on the other hand, they are acting with unjustified haste and unconcealed force upon Orthodox citizens, not even shying away from violating the constitution. From all regions of the Caucasus people are appealing to me with their troubles: one has been denied payment of salary, another has been illegally fired, and a third has not been hired, and all for a single cause--INN." Metropolitan Gedeon called the tax agencies to circumspection, caution, and wisdom. "The improvement of the collection of taxes, of course, is important," Metropolitan Gedeon declared, "but peace and harmony in society are much more important." (tr. by PDS, posted 21 January 2001)

Russian atheists organize

by Andrei Zolotov,
Ecumenical News International, 19 January 2001

A group of scientists and human rights activists has established the Moscow Society of Atheists in order to revive an ideology that has gone out of fashion here during a decade of post-communist life.

The society has been set up to defend Russia against what its members see as the threat of clericalism as religion, particularly the Russian Orthodox Church, the country's main church, grows in influence.

One of the Society of Atheists' organisers, human rights activist Lev Levinson, told ENI that his organisation's first major action would be to send an open letter to President Vladimir Putin, protesting against a mention of God in the new text of the Russian national anthem. Levinson said this was at odds with the constitution which proclaimed that Russia was a secular state.

Referring to a line of the anthem that states that "the native land [is] protected by God", Levinson said: "It is not up to the state to establish whether God exists or not."

Russia's new anthem is set to the music of the old Soviet anthem, and was the subject of intense debate here last year. Presumably anxious to avoid another debate over the wording, President Putin adopted, unilaterally by presidential decree, a new text for the anthem two days before New Year's Eve, when the anthem was given its premiere on national television.

In the new text, written by Sergei Mikhalkov, the same poet who wrote the words of the communist anthem in 1943, praise for Soviet pioneer Lenin and the Communist Party is replaced with praise for Russia as the "holy country".

Levinson, who has built a reputation as one of the most vocal defenders of freedom of conscience, told ENI that the Society of Atheists, set up by a group of students several months ago, was lodging an application for registration with Moscow city officials. The society has about a dozen members, including physicist Vitaly Ginsburg, and is chaired by actor and magician Yuri Gorny.

Levinson said that, according to opinion polls, slightly less than half of Russians were atheists. The society would defend their "widely violated rights", especially in the sphere of church-state relations, where religion, and primarily the Russian Orthodox Church, were playing an ever growing role. "Essentially, it is an anti-clerical society," he said of his group. "We are witnessing a large-scale offensive against the secular state," Levinson said.

The introduction of religion courses in state educational institutions, the blessing by priests of government offices - such as a public event several months ago when Patriarch Alexei II blessed the national Health Ministry - and the presence of Orthodox priests as chaplains in the army were "absolutely illegal and unconstitutional", he said.

Vsevolod Chaplin, a leading priest at the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow Patriarchate overseeing relations with political parties and public organisations, told ENI that the establishment of the Society of Atheists was part of a broader trend, which he described as a "new wave of godlessness among a certain group of Russian intellectuals".

Some liberal intellectuals, he said, were finding it difficult to face up to the "downgrading of their position of spiritual leadership in the society against the backdrop of the church's growing influence".

"Even in countries where the theory of separation between church and state is executed in its most complete form, such as the USA and France, not to mention the European tradition, there are chaplains in the army and forms of state support for certain religious groups," Chaplin said, adding that it was wrong to suggest that this meant the church was building "a clerical state".

Zinovy Kogan, president of the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organisations of Russia (KEROOR) told ENI he smiled when he heard about the formation of the new society. Kogan said: "If such a protest takes place, it should be taken into account. After all, everything comes from God, including atheists." ((c) Ecumenical News International, posted 20 January 2001)

Briefs:  Epiphany; Baptism of the Lord; Pentecostals and Zhirinovsky;

NTV, 19 January 2001

Today Orthodox Christians of Russia observe the feast of Epiphany (the Baptism of the Lord). Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus performed the liturgy and ritual of the Great Consecration of the Waters in the Epiphany cathedral church in Moscow, ITAR-TASS reports. The consecration of the waters on the day of Epiphany is called a "great consecration" (Greek: agiasmoi). According to the church's teaching, it renews the whole human being, healing both soul and body.

The holiday of Epiphany is called by that name because, according to the gospel, on that day the Lord revealed himself to the world in the three persons of his divinity: God the Son, Jesus Christ, received baptism in the Jordan (from the prophet John the Forerunner), the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, and God the Father bore witness to Jesus Christ by a voice from heaven. The Baptism of the Lord is one of the twelve most important (besides Easter) church holidays. (tr. by PDS, posted 20 January 2001)

by Dmitry Safonov, 18 January 2001

On Baptism Eve [Kreshchenskii sochelnik], 18 January, and on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord the Great Consecration of the Waters is performed. According to the teaching of the church, holy water is one of the means of grace given by God and it has the power to heal infirmities of the soul and body of those who receive it with faith.

But the holy water of the feast of Baptism is especially esteemed by Orthodox people. Even the smallest drop of that water, applied with prayer and faith, sanctifies the whole sea, according to the teaching of the holy fathers. Holy water of Baptism is received during illness because it has healing properties. It is sprinkled around dwellings. Pious tradition recommends that believers take holy water with communion bread every morning on an empty stomach. The Great Consecration of the Waters is conducted, as already said, on both 18 and 19 January. Sometimes it is said that the water consecrated on Baptism Eve has a different power from that of water consecrated on the day of the Baptism of the Lord. There exists even a folk notion that "Epiphany" water is one thing and "Baptism" water is another. Actually this is nothing more than superstition. Each kind of water, consecrated according to the ritual of the Great Consecration of the Waters, is equally holy.

Baptism Eve is observed in the same way Christmas Eve is. On that day, a fast is observed until evening, and in the evening the meal consists of boiled wheat with honey.

Following Baptism, when the holy days have concluded, believers return to the usual routine when Wednesdays and Fridays are fast days. (tr. by PDS, posted 20 January 2001)

NTV, 19 January 2001

On the invitation of the leadership of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (ROSKhVE), Vladimir Zhirinovsky attended a service of the "Kovcheg" [Ark] congregation of Pentecostals, the news agency "Blagovest-info" reports. Speaking after the service Vladimir Zhirinovsky stated that in his opinion the prayers of the Pentecostals led to the president's bestowing on him the honorary title "distinguished jurist of Russia." The leader of LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia] told parishioners that at meetings with Putin he has tried to explain to him that there are "many in Christianity of other denominations who could have yet greater significance" besides the Russian Orthodox church.

Zhirinivsky declared his readiness to exert maximum efforts so that congregations can be created throughout the country and "bureaucrats will not erect hindrances" because all the troubles are from those "who never were believers." He said that he himself had been baptized and his grandmother belonged to a denomination that was close to Pentecostals.

"The most important thing is man; we must love him," VladimirZhirinovsky went on. He emphasized that it is possible to achieve prosperity through Christian societies and it is necessary to strive that there will be more of them "from Kaliningrad to Kamchatka." "And you, perhaps, will make it so that people who are closer to you and who understand you and think of you will make it to the State Duma and to official positions," the leader of LDPR declared.

The president of ROSKhVE, Sergei Riakhovsky, presented Vladimir Zhirinovsky a Bible, stating his wish that it will become a handbook for him. He told the guest that parishioners are ready to pray for him and they always will be happy for him to be here. In reply to that statement the leader of LDPR assured participants in the meeting that their prayers will not be in vain.

It should be noted that in September 1997 there was a protest at the State Duma building by various religious organizations, including congregations of Pentecostals, against adoption of the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations."  Vladimir Zhirinovsky came out to the picketers and stated that "it should be stated in the law that the main religion is Orthodoxy," and "all protestants should be sent to the Belorussia train station." (tr. by PDS, posted 20 January 2001)

Briefs: Privileges for traditional religions; Muslim extremists; Vissarion sect; Putin's awards ceremony

NIV, 17 January 2001

A draft of a law by which "traditional" religious organizations will receiv the right to use preferential air time on state television channels is to be introduced into the State Duma by vice chairman of the Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations Alexander Chuev, the news agency "Blagovest-info" reports.

According to the draft, preferential air time will be offered to organizations of RPTs and Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish congregations, the deputy emphasized. Corresponding amendments should be introduced to the laws on freedom of conscience and the media. Chuev intends also to suggest amendments in the law on education which will provide for expansion of religious education in secondary schools.

The deputy intends to continue work on a law draft regarding the return of property that was confiscated after March 1917, primarily to "organizations of traditional confessional affiliation."

Amendments to the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations," in the plans of Alexander Chuev, will be not only encouraging but also restrictive. On one hand, the law should expand the possibilities for "evangelistic activity of traditional confessions" in various structures of society, in particular in the army and prison system. On the other hand, the deputy thinks that restrictive measures are needed against the penetration of the country by "pseudoreligious organizations and sects of a totalitarian propensity."

Thus Alexander Chuev has divided religious organizations into the good and the bad. The first will receive privileges and be protected against the second. The question arises as to where he puts Russian Catholics and protestants. Inasmuch as they are not mentioned among the "privileged," it could be suggested that the Russian legislator considers them "pseudoreligious organizations" or "totalitarian sects." (tr. by PDS, posted 17 January 2001)

NTV, 17 January 2001

In Tajikistan the judicial trials of activists of the underground religious extremist party "Khizb ut-takhir" (Party of Liberation) are continuing, Nezavisimaia gazeta reports. Yesterday in Dushanbe, with Supreme Court Judge Anvar Axhmedov presiding, the trial ended in which eight members of this party were sentenced to various terms of prison. In the prisoners' dock were residents of the environs of Dushanbe, many of Lenin district, the majority of whom are ethnic Uzbeks.

They all were arrested a year ago, and as Anvar Akhmedov stated "the guilt of the extremists was completely proven by incriminating documents." When they were searched at the time of their arrest, pamphlets and other printed literature were taken from them as well as programmatic documents of the party, which called for a violent change in the state structure of the republic and the creation on the territory of present-day central Asia of a purely religious state of a type of medieval caliphate.

This was the first trial of this kind in the capital of Tajikistan. Trials of "liberationists" were conducted in the past two years in the north of the republic in the Sogdiisk province bordering on Uzbekistan. It was here that the Tajik special services arrested more than 100 activists of this  conspiratorial underground party. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 January 2001)

NTV, 17 January 2001

The celebration of the fortieth birthday of Vissarion (Sergei Torop), founder and leader of the "Church of the Last Covenant," was held in the Alma-Ata society of "Vissarionites," according to a report from the news agency "Blagovest-info." The spiritual center of the ""Church of the Last Covenant" is located in Kuraginsk district of Krasnoyarsk territory, where several thousand followers of Vissarion live in almost thirty villages.

The Alma-Ata "Vissarionites" celebrated one of the basic holidays of their church in a small apartment of one of the believers. At the start they prayed before a photograph of Vissarion. The adepts believe that during prayer a symbolic union with the heart of the teacher occurs. Upon the completion of the "union" they showed a videotape of the consecration and construction of a bell on the "Holy Mount" in Kuraginsk district.  The tape was made a year ago at the time of the celebration of Vissarion's thirty-ninth birthday. It recorded the fifteen-kilometer trek that the group of congregants made in thirty-five-below cold, transporting the 660-kilogram bell to the hill where Vissarion's residence is. Thirty persons who had formed a line drew a sleigh with the bell and another four pushed from behind. The hoisting of the bell onto the cross beam of the belfry was supervised by a priest of the church, Sergei Chevlakov, who formerly was a Muscovite and lieutenant of the strategic rocket forces.

Sergei Torop was a policeman in Minusinsk when he began preaching under the name of the prophet Vissarion in 1991. At his behest several thousand persons sold their apartments in various cities in Russia and resettled in the distant villages of Krasnoyarsk territory where they engage in agriculture. Vissarion teaches that the Last Covenant should unite all religions of the world. The devil was created by human thought and can be conquered only by it. This is what the "Vissarionites" engage in, concentrating their thoughts exclusively on good and maintaining a strict diet. They consider Vissarion an incarnation of Jesus Christ. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 January 2001)

from Communication Service of OVTsS MP, 16 January 2001

On 16 January in the Catherine Hall of the Kremlin Russian President V.V. Putin awarded state medals to His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, and a number of hierarchs, priests, monks and laity of the Russian Orthodox church, as well as to representatives of traditional Christian confessions.

Speaking at the solemn ceremony V.V. Putin said:  "We have stepped over the threshold of the 2000th anniversary of the history of Christianity and are convinced that once and for all we have done away with spiritual nihilism and moral poverty and with the century of fierce struggle for the individual's right to believe. We enter the new millennium with hope, which, I am convinced, will be a time of historic and spiritual transformation of our motherland, Russia.

"Throughout the world the threshold year of 2000 has been connected with the symbolic change of epochs. For Russia and for all of us it has brought real positive changes, it has strengthened economic prosperity and the foundations of statehood, and it has become a year of the social unity that we so very much need. Your service is a part of this national advance, the service of leaders of the church who devoted their lives to service to the faith and the people.

"Participants in today's meeting went through difficult trials when in the recent past the Russian Orthodox church and other religious confessions endured prohibitions and persecutions. But, despite it all, you fulfilled your pastoral duty honestly. Today the church is vigorously restoring its traditional mission.

"I would like to express special gratitude for his pastoral concern and untiring care for this difficult and serious work to His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, Metropolitan Vladimir of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, and Metropolitan Sergius of Solnechnogorsk. The Medal of Honor is awarded today to Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna for his special contribution to maintaining interconfessional peace and to Archpriest Aleksei Zlobin, rector of the church of the Nativity of the Mother of God, under whose leadership and personal participation an elementary school was opened for children of poor and unfortunate families. The Medal of Friendship is awarded to Vladimir Sergeevich Pudov, head of the representation of the Evangelical Lutheran church, whose efforts revived the life of the Lutheran congregation of Moscow, Aleksei Vasilevich Khvalkovsky, executive secretary of the Russian Council of the Ancient Orthodox Litoral church, Hegumena Nikolaia, mother superior of the St. Nicholas Chernoostrovsk convent, under whom was organized a children's home for girls who suffer from drug dependency, Hegumena Innokentia, mother superior of the Anastasia convent, who supervised the restoration of this unique monument of history and architecture and under whose care the convent created Russia's first orphanage, Bishop Aleksei of Orekhovo-Zuevsk, abbot of the New Savior monastery, who actively participated in the restoration of the church of Christ the Savior and the New Savior cloister, and Archpriest Lev Makhno, rector of the Dormition cathedral of the Tula Kremlin who established one of Russia's best Orthodox classical secondary schools."

By decision of the president of the Russian federation, His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus was recognized for his great contribution to the spiritual and moral regeneration of Russia and the consolidation of civil peace. Thanks also were expressed to Metropolitan Vladimir of St. Petersburg and Ladoga and the chief of staff of the Moscow patriarchy, Metropolitan Sergius of Solnechnogorsk. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 January 2001)

Interfax, 16 January 2001

A Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is convinced that "Russia is forever over spiritual nihilism and moral emptiness, over the epoch of the fierce struggle for the people's right to believe."

Putin said this on Tuesday during a ceremony at which state awards were given to Christian clergymen. The ceremony took place in the Kremlin on Tuesday and is the first ceremony of this kind in the history of modern Russia.

"We are entering the new millennium with hope. I am confident that this millennium will be the time of Russia's historical and spiritual transformation," Putin said.

The president noted that the year 2000 had been associated with a symbolic change of epochs all over the world. "For Russia, this year brought real positive changes, strengthened the economic welfare and the foundations of statehood, and became the year of societal union, which is of such need to us," the president said.

In Putin's opinion, the clergy, who have devoted their life to serving "faith and people," have played a role in this "national rise."

In this connection, Putin noted that the fate of the Russian Orthodox Church has always been closely connected with the country's historical fate.

The president stressed that many participants in today's meeting "suffered a lot when the Russian Orthodox Church and other religious confessions were banned and persecuted in the recent past." "However, despite everything, you honestly fulfilled your duty as shepherds," Putin told the clergymen.

In his opinion, today, the church in Russia is actively restoring its traditional mission, including the work of the clergy in social institutions.

Putin also emphasized that society has a high regard for the church's efforts aimed at preserving and strengthening civil peace and dialogue between various confessions. "To many of our fellow countrymen living far away from their Motherland, it is the church that is the only island of Russia that helps preserve the national culture and language," the president said.

In his opinion, constructive dialogue between the church and the state is enriching Russia from the point of view of spirituality.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II thanked Putin for giving these awards "in connection with the epochal anniversary of the 2000th birth of Christ."

"Every clergyman is taking part in the regeneration of the country, and the Russian Orthodox Church is doing its all to strengthen peace in society," the patriarch said.

Alexy II wished Putin "blessed success" in his work. "The fact that we saw the New Year in with a young president full of energy shows us that Russia will resolve its economic problems and other complicated issues and the 21st century will be peaceful and constructive," Alexy II said, noting that the church supports the "titanic efforts" that Putin is making to achieve this.

In closing the ceremony, Putin noted that, after having a brief talk with the recipients of the awards, he "once again became convinced what difficult years we have left behind, and once again appreciated what has been done over the past few years, including by First Russian President Boris Yeltsin."

The president said he asked one of the clergymen during the award ceremony where the latter worked, and the answer was, "In Bolshaya Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa [Great Communist Street]." "It confirms once again how everything has gotten mixed up in our country," Putin said, noting that "the positive charge of cooperation between the church and the state will last in the future." (posted 17 January 2001)

Briefs: Jehovah's Witnesses; antisemites; Putin honors church leaders; Moscow school of evangelism

NTV, 16 January 2001

Archpriest Aleksy Zorin called Orthodox residents of the city of Staryi Oskol not to buy inexpensive medicines at the "Realko" drug stores, which are owned by a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization.

The priest's appeal was published in the "Pravoslavnoe Oskolie" newspaper. It said:  "Many of you, dear residents of Staryi Oskol, go to drug stores of the 'Realko' firm and buy medicines there. We must know that in doing this we are giving financial aid to the sect of 'Witnesses.' By doing this we bring harm to our soul. Let us recall our responsibility before God and our own children."

The archpriest calls people who need medicines to make their purchases in different drug stores. At the same time the prices in the stores of the "Realko" network are substantially lower. Besides they accept urgent orders for any medicines and they are filled within 24 hours. Hard-up citizens had better not go to the former municipal drug stores; when they buy five medicines they risk overpaying by 50 to 100 rubles. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 January 2001)

Sobornost, 16 January 2001

The following appeal to Orthodox Christians of Staryi Oskol was published in the "Pravoslavnoe Oskolie" newspaper by the dean of the first Staryi Oskol districte, Archpriest Aleksei Zorin:

"All of you, especially elderly folk, kow that there is in Staryi Oskol the 'Realko' firm that owns a chain of drug stores. This firm claims to have the lowest prices for medicines. It is headed by Tamara Grankin. She is well known for her affiliation with the 'Jehovah's Witnesses' sect. Many of you, dear residents of Staryi Oskol, go to the 'Realko' drug stores and buy medicines there. We must know that in doing this we are giving financial aid to the sect of 'Witnesses.' By doing this we bring harm to our soul. Let us recall our responsibility before God and our own children."

The archpriest calls those who need medicines to make their purchases in drug stores of other firms or at the former municipal drug stores. The prices in the "Realko" drug store chain really are lower than in any other drug stores of the city, often substantially. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 January 2001)

NTV, 16 January 2001

In Alexandrov outside Moscow an Orthodox conference titled "Nilus Readings" was held, devoted to the anniversary of the death of the conservative Orthodox publicist Sergei Nilus (1862-1929), the news agency "Blagovest-info" reports.

Before the start of the conference its participants conducted a requiem at Sergei Nilus' grave and then visited Alexandrov settlement where they memorialized Tsar Ivan the Terrible.

The conference was opened by Orthodox publicist Vladimir Starikov, who reported that the conduct of the readings will make a substantial contribution to the work of "Russian communality" [sobornost]. Monastic priest Kornily presented a report which identified as the chief enemy of Russia and Orthodoxy the "tripartite serpent," Judaism, papism, and free masonry.

The head of the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods and the Union of Orthodox Standardbearers, Leonid Simonovich, reported that in our days is being fulfilled the prophecies of Nilus regarding the intensification of persecution of Russian patriotic priests. For example, Fr Oleg Stroev was removed from his position as rector of a church outside Moscow for active participation in Orthodox patriotic events. Participants of the conference expressed their support for the patriotic priest.

Alexander Lokhmatov described an episode from Nilus' life, his meeting with Felix Dzerzhinsky, who had summoned Nilus to an interrogation. Sergei Nilus declared to Dzerzhinsky:  "If you kill me, that will be proof of the accuracy of my works." To which the latter replied: "Therefore we willnot kill you."

Sergei Nilus is most famous for the publication of the original document of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," an antisemitic fabrication produced in Paris at the behest of the tsarist security guard. The "Protocols" discuss a Jewish conspiracy which threatens Christian humanity. The head of the Cheka clearly did not wish to prove the correctness of the absurd myth by making a martyr out of its publisher. The conference ended with the singing of the anthem "God save the tsar." (tr. by PDS, posted 16 January 2001)

NTV, 16 January 2001

Russian President Vladimir Putin is convinced that Russia "once and for all has done away with nihilism and moral poverty and the century of fierce struggle for the right of an individual to believe." The head of state declared this today in the Kremlin at a ceremony bestowing state awards on clergy of the Russian Orthodox church and other Christian confessions, according to a report from ITAR-TASS.

"In starting the new millennium, we believe that it will become a time of historic and spiritual transformation of Russia," Vladimir Putin said. The president said that the year 2000 brought Russia "strengthening of its economic prosperity and the foundations of statehood and it was a year of social unification that we needed very much." In this advance, the president is convinced, a great service was performed by clergy. He noted the efforts of the church "for strengthening civil peace and interconfessional accord and the consistent position of the church on many key international and internal political problems."

The president expressed special thanks for a great contribution to the spiritual and moral regeneration of Russia and the strengthening of civil peace to Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus, Metropolitan Vladimir of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, and Metropolitan Sergius of Solnechnogorsk.  "Mutual understanding and constructive dialogue between church and state serves common goals: the creation of the moral wealth and prosperity of Russia," Vladimir Putin declared.

By presidential decree state awards with bestowed on 36 clergy. The majority of them belong to the Russian Orthodox church. Among the awardees were the executive secretary of the Russian Council of the Ancient Orthodox Litoral Church, Alexis Khvalkovsky as well as the head of the representation of the Evangelical Lutheran church in Moscow, Vladimir Pudov. Today Vladimir Pudov took part in the NTV program "Hero of the Day," devoted to the subject of interconfessional equality and freedom of religious confession in Russia.  (tr. by PDS, posted 16 January 2001)

ITAR-TASS, 16 January 2001

President Vladimir Putin presented state decorations to 36 hierarchs and priests of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations in the Kremlin's Saint Catherine Hall on Tuesday.

Russian Patriarch Alexy II, one of the awardees, said at the ceremony that the fate of the Russian Orthodox Church was inseparable from Russia and its people.

"The Russian Orthodox Church was with its people in joy and in trials during the thousand-year history, and is continuing to serve it," he said.

"Each priest, being a citizen of our Fatherland, by practical deeds participates in the revival of Russia," the patriarch said.

He said Russia's crucial tasks were consolidation of peace and rapport in society, the fostering of moral foundations of life of people, revival of the social activity of the Church and preservation of architectural and cultural monuments which he said should be saved for generations to come.

Alexy II on behalf of the decorated ecclesiastics thanked Putin and wished him success in his labours for Russia's good.

"That we start the new year with the young president who is full of strength and energy is a guarantee that Russia will resolve many economic and other complex problems confronting the country," the patriarch said.

He wished Russia a "peaceful and creative" 21st century. "We believe in this and we with all our strength will help this, maintaining our efforts in this direction," Alexy said.  (posted 16 January 2001)

RIA Novosti/Sobornost, 16 January 2001

Moscow's first Sunday evangelistic school has been established in the church of St. Nicholas in Otradny. Adults and children will study in the school, who after completion will carry the teaching into the world.

The staff of the Evangelistic Center in the church in Otradny consider that Orthodox Russians "forgot how to proclaim their religion in the decades of atheism." This is one of the reasons that "destructive and totalitarian sects have great influence on youth today," according to the press secretary of the center, Anna Lisichkina. Every adherent of such organizations is an active proponent of his faith. The evangelistic center intends "to train people who are able by example and word to lead others."

Priests working in the center are sure that evangelistic activity by laity is very important now "for restoring the past spiritual strength of Russia." (tr. by PDS, posted 16 January 2001).

Briefs: Tajik Muslims; pope-patriarch; Pentecostals; Salvation Army

NTV, 15 January 2001

Eight activitys of the underground religious party "Khizb ut-takhrir" ("Party of Liberation") were sentenced today by the Supreme Court of Tajikistan to various prison terms, from one to six years. As a member of the Supreme Court, Anvar Akhmedov, who presided at the trial, told a TASS reporter, all of the condemned were Tajik citizens of Uzbek nationality and residents of the Lenin district of the republic near Dushanbe.

In the course of the preliminary hearing and the judicial investigation their membership in an underground extremist organization was completely established as well as the accusation  of "inciting regional and religious hostility." At the time of their arrest, pamphlets and other printed literature of extremist contents were seized.

This is the third trial of activists of "Khizb ut-takhrir" in the past two years, two of which were held in the northern Sogdiisk province of Tajikistan where, according to information of the Tajik special service, the ideas of this extremist party are more widespread. (tr. by PDS, posted 15 January 2001)

Interfax Russian News, 14 January 2001

Vatican representative Crescencio Cepe is convinced that a meeting between Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Alexy of the Moscow and All Russia will definitely take place.

"John Paul II is ready to meet with Alexy II even today. But there are certain problems which we are trying to solve jointly with the Orthodox Church," Cepe told an Interfax correspondent in Kaliningrad on Saturday.

He said that in July 2001 John Paul II plans to visit Ukraine. Talks are being held on his visit to Kazakhstan.

Archbishop Cepe had arrived in Kaliningrad to attend a Roman Catholic symposium on the completion of the celebrations of the 2000th anniversary of Christianity in Russia.

The symposium has brought together Catholic bishops from different parts of Russia and representatives of the Russian Orthodox and Evangelical-Lutheran churches. (Copyright 2001 Interfax News Agency, posted 15 January 2001)

IPR Strategic Business Information Database, 14 January 2001

Two Pentecostal churches in Kostroma region northeast of Moscow that experienced attempts to liquidate them in court last year were re-registered on 29 December by the regional justice administration just two days ahead of December's re-registration deadline. The justice administration had itself brought the unsuccessful liquidation suit against the Kostroma Christian Center and the Grace Church last summer, but the court in November ordered the justice administration to re-register the two churches within one month. (Copyright 1999. RFE/RL, Inc., posted 15 January 2001)

by Ivan Sukhov

Vremya Novostei, Russian Press Digest, 15 January 2001

For two weeks now the Salvation Army is existing in Moscow semi-legally

The poor in Moscow will hardly be able to count on free assistance from the Salvation Army this summer. The Salvation Army has been existing in Moscow semi-legally for already two weeks.

"The registration that the Salvation Army got in 1992 expired with the beginning of this year", the newspaper Vremya Novostei writes, "but its Moscow branch has failed to get the re-registration required by the new law On Religious Organizations.

"As it is claimed by the members of the Salvation Army, the city Justice Department had deliberately procrastinated with its study of the documents. On its part, the Justice Department said that some foreign missionaries belonging to the Salvation Army had failed to demonstrate the visas on the basis of which they were staying in Russia, while some of the documents submitted for re-registration lacked certain signatures. Most important, in the Salvation Army there is a strict military hierarchy, they wear uniforms and for this reason have elements of a paramilitary organization. But the city authorities have not asked experts on religion to determine what exactly does the Salvation Army have in common with a regular army...

"The Salvation Army appealed first to the Presnya inter- municipal court and then to the Moscow City Court and both times was denied registration. A member of the Salvation Army, Lyudmila Sukhachyova, has told the Vremya Novostei correspondent that already late in December they had asked the Moscow City Court to provide them with a copy of its ruling so that they could appeal it, but they have not yet been issued it. Meantime some 20,000 dollars have already been spent as legal fees.

"The Russian command of the Salvation Army has hope that the Russian Ministry of Justice will soon recognize their organization as a centralized one: according to Sukhachyova, the necessary formalities have been fulfilled, the Salvation Army has registered its organizations in St.Petersburg, Vyborg, Petrozavodsk, Volgograd and Rostov although in accordance with the law the registration of just three regional organizations is sufficient...

"The soldiers and officers of the Salvation Army do not tire to explain that their organization, founded in London in 1865, in reality is the most peaceful army in the world... The Salvation Army in Moscow today consists of about 200 followers in six parishes who are constantly engaged in charity work: from time to time they feed the homeless, give clothing to the poor and visit the sick. Since 1992, the Salvation Army says, it has assisted more than 800 various organizations in Moscow.

"The Justice Department has not yet started the liquidation procedure and the Salvation Army remains on the list of the city's organizations. But, Sukhachyova went on, if the Justice Department files a suit in court and wins its case just as it did the two previous ones, the Salvation Army will have to terminate its activities in Moscow." (Copyright 2001 RUSSICA Information Inc, posted 15 January 2001)

Patriarchate trying to get pope to cancel Ukrainian visit?

by Philip Pullella
Reuters, 15 January 2001

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met Pope John Paul on Monday despite there being no sign of a thaw in the icy relations between the Vatican and Russian Orthodox Church needed for the Pope to visit Moscow.

Ivanov, on the last day of a visit to Italy, met the Pope in the Pontiff's private study. He was the highest-ranking Russian politician to meet the Pope since President Vladimir Putin visited the Vatican in June.

At that time, Putin did not formally renew an invitation extended by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and later by Russia's first post-Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin.

Significantly, a brief Vatican statement also made no mention of talk about a possible trip to Russia.

Chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Monday's audience took place in a climate of "great cordiality" and that the two men discussed the situation of Catholics in the Russian Federation and the Middle East.

The 80-year-old Pontiff has long dreamed of visiting Russia but unresolved disputes and sometimes bitter tensions between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches have hindered a trip.

The Pope would need an invitation from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II to make the first visit by a reigning Pontiff since the Great Schism of 1054 split Eastern and Western branches of Christianity.

In a message sent to Rome for a stone-laying ceremony of a new Russian Orthodox church -- one of the main reasons for Ivanov's visit -- Alexiy made no mention of the Pope.

In another sign of difficult times, the Catholic delegation to the ceremony at the building site just yards from the Vatican did not include a cardinal but prelates of lower rank.

Patriarch lashes out at Catholics in ex-USSR

Two weeks ago, Alexiy lashed out at Catholics, saying the Vatican was poaching believers in the former Soviet Union, particularly in Ukraine, where the Pope is due to visit in June.

"If they consider Orthodoxy to be just as beneficial and capable of salvation as Catholicism, then what is the sense of this constant effort to draw people into the other faith?" he said.

As Ivanov was meeting the Pope on Monday, Fides, the news agency of the Vatican's missionary arm, said the Russian Orthodox Church was preparing to write a letter to the Pope to try to convince him to call off the Ukraine trip.

The Pope has made patching up ties with other Christian churches an important priority of his pontificate.

Although he has visited several countries of the former Soviet Union and two predominantly Orthodox countries in the former Eastern Bloc -- Romania and Georgia -- relations with the Russian Orthodox Church appear to be more difficult.

The Putin administration appears particularly keen not to alienate the Russian Orthodox Church, whose backing it wants for issues such as Chechnya.

In an interview published at the weekend with Italy's Corriere della Sera, Ivanov said he had "no intention of interfering in inter-confessional relations."

He said a "broadening" of the dialogue between the Holy See and the Russian Orthodox Church could have a positive influence on the timing of an eventual visit by the Pope to Russia. (posted 15 January 2001)

Agence France Presse, 15 January 2001

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II opposes a visit by Pope John Paul II to Ukraine, the Vatican news agency Fides reported Monday, citing unnamed sources within the Orthodox community.

A source who attended a meeting of Orthodox bishops said that a representative of the Patriarch, the Metropolitan Vladimir, had been charged with writing to the pope asking him to abandon the visit, the agency reported.

The visit, which is set for June 21 to 24, came at the invitation of Ukraine's bishops and President Leonid Kuchma. The Vatican has officially confirmed it.

Catholicism is strong in the western half of the former Soviet republic but Ukraine's dominant faith is the Orthodox Christiandom.

The Patriarch has already come out against a proposed visit by the pope to Russia until certain disputes are resolved, one of which being the alleged persecution by Catholics of Orthodox believers in western Ukraine.

The Catholic and Orthodox communities there have clashed several times in recent years.

The Patriarch also wants an end to Roman Catholic proselytism in areas he deems the Orthodox Church's territory.

A Vatican spokesman said that the pope and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov discussed the Catholic community in Russia during wide-ranging talks at the Vatican City Monday.

But he did not say whether the question of a papal visit was raised. [(c) 2001 Agence France Presse, posted 16 Jasnuary 2001]

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